A reader writers: My husband and I have been married eight years. We each have a daughter from our first marriages and a son together and we all generally get along well. My daughter goes to summer camp and I will be heading up to see her on visitors' day. Meanwhile, my husband's 16-year-old daughter wants to bring a friend up to our cottage the same weekend to go tubing. My husband didn't want to have kids, including our son, out boating without another adult present so he invited his high school buddy James and his wife, Lynn, to come for the weekend as well.
Unfortunately James will be out of town but Lynn wants to come up and insists she will look after all the cooking while she is there. I realize both James and Lynn are close to my stepdaughter and I'm not concerned with infidelity but I do NOT like the notion of another woman sleeping over and cooking for my husband and kids when I am not around. Opposite sex sleepovers outside of family are a total no-go with me.
It was my idea to invite James and Lynn in the first place but I never thought she would come without him. I want him to break it to Lynn that this is not a workable situation for me and invite another friend or couple up but he says it's too late. I'm beside myself fretting about this. He insists I have nothing to worry about and it's just a matter of having an adult spotter in the boat. What should we do?
Answer: Sexual jealousy is something I can understand, so my first instinct was to suggest that you admit that you're in denial about this. But then I decided to take you at your word and pondered this other kind of jealousy you're talking about. This woman is suggesting stepping into the mother role of your family, and while there's nothing so obvious and lurid as sex to be worried about, I can see how this role invasion would run even deeper. Perhaps even all the way into some ancient part of your brain. So I consulted Geoff MacDonald, an associate professor of social psychology at the University of Toronto who researches interpersonal relationships and has a side interest in evolutionary psychology.
Dr. MacDonald set up the scenario a couple hundred thousand years back. You are a female homo sapiens living in the African savannah and have just been knocked up by the male of the species. Great, you think. Now I'm going to be pregnant and will have to breastfeed and take care of this baby until it can survive on its own. This means many years during which I will be unable to hunt and gather. Sigh. I'm going to have to keep this brute around.
"What the evolutionary psychologists argue," concludes Dr. MacDonald "is that for women, they should become more jealous if there is some sign that their partner is becoming emotionally involved with another woman." Indeed, he says recent studies suggest that women today are more concerned with their partner falling in love with another woman than simply getting it on.
So this is all to say, your discomfort with Lynn cooking breakfast for your family is hard-wired into your biology. "This other woman gets an opportunity to display her caring skills and her caretaking skills," continues Dr. MacDonald, "and there is maybe some danger that her husband will develop an emotional attachment to that other woman." Lynn may very well make a three-cheese omelette that puts yours to shame.
But while this is all grounds to put your foot down on this issue, it's an attitude that has a tendency to become dangerous if not kept in check. Dr. MacDonald points out that "the biggest vulnerability factor in relationships is self-esteem." Neither he nor I know enough about you to say this is the case, but you should ask yourself what is at the root of your insecurity. Do you worry about your husband leaving you, and if so, why? Could it be related to something that happened in your past or maybe to your parents' relationship? A little self-analysis can help you keep up useful boundaries without taking it too far.
While Dr. MacDonald says that threat perception is "there for a reason, you have to watch out for being hypersensitive, which can stop being functional and start to become a self-fulfilling prophecy." In other words, if you start to become over-possessive or overly constrictive, he may leave you for that very reason.
As much as possible, I like to advise people to be honest in all their relationships. But in this case I don't think it's worth creating unnecessary strain between the four of you, especially since James and your husband are old buddies. I think this may be the perfect time for the judicious use of the little white lie.
Pull out your phone book and call all the other friends and couples that you can invite to the cottage. I don't think it'll be hard to find someone last minute who would mind a few days up north - even with some babysitting duties - as long as there's a bottle of red waiting for them in the evening. Having more people there will change the dynamic and you'll no longer feel like your man and Lynn are playing husband and wife. Then, have your husband call up James and explain that another couple has decided to come along.
The great thing about the white lie is that it still can subliminally communicate the underlying message, so your husband should definitely conclude with this: "Lynn is still welcome, of course, but she is not needed."
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